Toyota AI Ventures launches call for innovation to fund robotics startups focused on mobile manipulation

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Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Toyota AI Ventures has put out a global ‘call for innovation’ in partnership with the Toyota Research Institute (TRI).

Designed to spur entrepreneurial innovation by identifying key technology gaps, the initiative uses a call-and-response approach to offer promising startups the opportunity to secure from US$500,000 to US$2m in venture capital funding from Toyota AI Ventures, as well as the possibility of partnering on a proof-of-concept project with TRI.

The first call, developed in conjunction with TRI’s robotics group, focuses on improving mobile manipulation technology for assistive robots that can help people in and around the home.

Future calls may address technology challenges in other areas that TRI is working on as part of its research in robotics and automated driving, such as perception, machine learning or simulation.

“With the call for innovation, we’re looking for talented, tenacious entrepreneurs that are bold enough to solve some of the toughest problems, and bring them to market,” said Jim Adler, managing director of Toyota AI Ventures.

“A startup may be working on technologies for a related product, or an entrepreneur may have been wanting to start a company but she hasn’t done so yet. We hope this call will encourage innovators to take the plunge.”

Since launching an initial US$100m fund a year ago to invest in early-stage startups focused on artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, data, autonomous mobility and robotics, Toyota AI Ventures has quickly grown its portfolio.

This first call for innovation is open to hardware and software startups around the world that have 1) raised less than US$3m in funding; 2) can demonstrate their solution via a working prototype; and 3) have a strong business model to deliver value to customers.

Examples of mobile manipulation solutions in hardware include safe, lightweight arms; grippers designed for common daily tasks; and technologies for better tactile sensing. Software solutions could include ways to compensate for lower-precision, lower-fidelity hardware; algorithms to learn from or annotate data; and ways to apply lessons learned from simulation.

“Robotics is starting to have a big impact in industrial automation, but we see a gap when it comes to assistive robotics in and around the home,” explained Max Bajracharya, director of robotics at TRI and head of the mobile manipulation technology team.

“There’s a need for innovative technologies and business models that will help us get to the ultimate goal of making robots that are safe, affordable, and useful for everyday people.”

Toyota AI Ventures is accepting applications for this call for innovation now until the end of October, and submissions will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Qualified startups will be evaluated on the basis of their team, technology, business model, and go-to-market strategy, and will be subject to standard diligence before any investment is made.

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Rachel's career in journalism began around five years ago when she started working for UKi Media & Events, having recently graduated from Coventry University where she studied the subject. Her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the groundbreaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of the automotive and tire industries.

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